Fathered by God…Again – Textual Tuesday

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” (1 Peter 1.3)

Anyone who has read the Bible very much is painfully aware of the numerous genealogies found therein. For many folks, these segments of scripture might as well be marked with the heading: SKIP THIS SECTION. Of course, this reality is generally due to our inability to pronounce all of the names. But in so passing over these tedious parts of God’s Word, we may be missing out on some important concepts.

I suspect most people recognize the importance of these family records, particularly when it comes to the lineage of Christ. Matthew begins his gospel by noting the ancestry of Jesus as it pertains especially to David and Abraham (Mt.1.1f). He was, after all, the primary fulfillment of promises given to both, and that genealogy is especially interesting given the women mentioned (three of whom were Gentiles) and the clear distinction in v.16 that Jesus was born of Mary but not begotten of Joseph. Luke also offers an early family history of Jesus, noting Him as the Son of God both by the Father’s pronouncement (Lk.3.22) and by ancestry, which could be traced all of the way to Adam, and back to God…again (v.23-38). Both Matthew and Luke go to some length to underscore, separate from the genealogy, that Jesus was fathered by God through the Spirit. It is important in affirming Jesus as the Messiah that His earthly genealogy is traceable. And this is how we understand the import of biblical genealogies, for the most part. Yet, I’d like to offer another consideration, especially in view of Jesus’ lineage.

Peter, in the afore-quoted passage, uses some interesting language as he begins the practical admonition of his letter. Please give some attention to the following elements in the hope that we might gain greater appreciation for the import of his affirmation and conclusions.

First, Peter praises God. After all, He is deserving of such for a myriad of reasons. He is mentioned as the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s easy to pass over this phrase as simply introductory or a common identification. However, Peter is about to emphasize the relationship of God to Christians (the “pilgrims” who are God’s chosen, sanctified, and cleansed people – v.1-2). Thus, God is to be praised first and foremost because He, as God, “fathered” Jesus. Going back to Luke’s genealogy, God begot Jesus twice, so to speak. Jesus was God’s Son through the family of Adam, and Jesus was God’s Son through the “overshadowing” of Mary by the Holy Spirit (Lk.1.34-35). God is to be praised that Jesus was begotten by Him, both as man and as God. Hebrews clarifies how important are both of those realities as Jesus serves as our high priest.

Secondly, Peter praises God because of His action toward Christians – “who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again…” This little phrase is the foundation for the remainder of Peter’s epistle. Please notice that God’s mercy is underscored. This is not the same as God’s grace toward mankind in general (Tit.2.11f). God’s grace offered all people a means of redemption. God’s mercy describes His action toward those who accept and respond to such grace. Here, Peter describes what God has done for those chosen, sanctified, and cleansed (v.2). God’s activity is at the forefront here. He has had compassion on those who come to him. He has exercised His divine power on our behalf. He is working, extending His kindness, and exerting His goodness toward the followers of Jesus. Most of all, His mercy has been expressed in making us His children. He has “begotten us again…

We are accustomed to the idea of being born again (Jn.3.3f; 1 Pet.1.23; 1 Jn.2.29f; 3.9f; 4.7f; 5.1f), yet Peter is not describing here what has happened to us as much as he is underscoring what God has done. God has fathered us. We are His children because of what He has done, not because of what we have done. All of His plans throughout history, all of His patience, all of His sacrifices, all of His prophecies, all of His promises and provisions and preparations have been made so that He could beget us again. The biblical genealogies that use this term over and over are generally underscoring the identity of the father. Such seems to be Peter’s effort. Were it not for God’s willingness to act, we would have no spiritual life. Just as our physical father gave us life through his action, so God has done the same. We live because He begot. Even more compelling is the addition of “again”. I can see no way to understand such than this. God gave us life the first time we were born, as He is the source of life. When He gave us life through His Son, He fathered us yet again. He didn’t have to. Such was His choice, and fully expresses His mercy.

The remainder of Peter’s letter is centered directly upon this action of God. In v.4-5, we have an inheritance (which argues a parent/child relationship), and He keeps us by His power (again, what a parent does for his child). In v.13f, we are to live a holy life because we are His children. Notice how often Peter calls us to God’s begetting. We call on the Father (1.17). We have brethren (1.22; 2.17; 3.8; 5.12). We are born again of incorruptible seed (1.23f). We are to receive the word as newborn babes (2.2f); we are the chosen, royal, holy, special people of God – God’s household (2.4-10; 4.17); we are to be different from the world because we are God’s (1.14f; 2.1f; 2.11f; 3.8f; 4.4f).

We are who we are because God has fathered us again. We share such with our Lord. God is to be praised for His mercy. He is to be praised in our life. We are, after all, indebted to Him for our very existence. That’s what genealogies underscore.

–Russ Bowman